A NYT article about libraries and civil society was one of the warmest and most hopeful texts from the other side of the Atlantic in the recent years. It made several key points: libraries are open, inclusive and fun spaces to interact – or to be by oneself. The growing emphasis on libraries can hopefully replace the recent obsession with cafes in many discussion circles.
On my three most recent visits to Vilnius, I couldn’t help but admire how cool the national library has become. People go there to record their podcasts, schedule meetings, work on their stuff, concentrate on reading or talking, or attend events. The building is bright and inviting. I could only dream of this when I made a few attempts to get work done at the national library in Valletta. The gloomy building was cold and dark, and although I enjoyed the selection of newspapers to read and the set-up, it was clearly built for reading something from the library’s archives. To continue discussions on public space, ignited by last year’s Capital of Culture events, Valletta should revitalise its libraries rather than move community events and discussions to cafes. Libraries should be our focus as we, as communities and democracies, seek to create the ultimate anti-Facebook.
Food is increasingly glorified – as a travel, community, bonding and self-development experience. Many people of my generation and social class spend a huge portion of their monthly budgets on eating out rather than saving for purchases. Unsurprisingly, catering is a robust business even in countries that are still grappling with the impact of the economic crisis. Restaurants compete for this ever-growing market – if not locals, then at least tourists will consume whatever is on offer. Yet I keep seeing habits that are counter-intuitive and don’t seem to make business sense.
I will not touch any chocolate again for at least a week, I thought, coming home from a sweet tooth trap in the South of the island, cheerfully chatting with my companions in Japanese. Friends from other countries told me that the now-annual chocolate festival in Hamrun is something you see once. It’s enough. This being my first year in Malta, I used the opportunity to experience this event, as each of its components sounded fun – sweet treats, festive atmosphere, and participation of diverse communities.
It’s typical that the best cafes and bars are hidden in courtyards between several apartment blocks, a friend explained as we went for drinks to a trendy bar, complete with trees and a touch of South American fusion in its menu. With many outdoor cafes and bars outside of the tourist area thus hidden, Bucharest’s eclectic facades look somewhat grim. But who stays with the facades anyway? Bucharest invites the viewer to move on and search deeper.
The first day of September was rich in intercultural events: Appogg (the governmental youth agency) and UNHCR Malta brought several communities together to share food and traditional music in Msida, targeting mostly families in their Building Friendships event, and Spark15, a young migrants’ NGO, publicized a contemporary music and games event in Valletta. It was a tough choice, but Msida and Valletta being relatively close, I expected to make it to both. The first one was attractive for the opportunity to meet organized diaspora communities in Malta. The second one promised an energetic and youthful vibe.
Msida, home of Malta’s junior college, is a well-connected town by the sea. With the event taking place opposite the church, there was a good chance that passers-by would spot it and spontaneously decide to join. The center of the square was kept free for folk dancing performances, and several food stalls were arranged in a semicircle, offering Palestinian/ Levantine, Bangladeshi, Ghanaian, Maltese and Somali food, with face-painting and drums workshops in between. Continue reading →
In Budapest, where we had a much-debated international festival, my Latvian friend once told me a funny story about his exchange semester in the US. When asked to make typical food for some kind of food day on a warm weekend, he didn′t hesitate to bring some meat skewers. To the shock of his Armenian colleagues, he made shashlik. “It is the most typical dish we eat in Latvia,” he later explained to those who contested it on the grounds of cultural appropriation. He did not read into the expectation of something ‘unique’ and ‘exotic’ in the request to cook typical food.
Answering questions about “typical food in your country” is a compulsory part of expat life, and it often happens in travels, too. I often have to explain that typical and traditional Lithuanian food are completely different, and both categories are entirely different from what I normally eat. Continue reading →
The trip to Cyprus was long and adventurous enough to prompt all kinds of thoughts. But before I start describing specific places visited, I am planning to write a few posts on general observations from both sides, the North and the South. One of the observations I made during the trip is about how people relate to where their stuff comes from. I thought this relationship was more direct and genuine than I’ve seen in most of my travels. In Cyprus one is rarely too far from the source of things.
Walking by creepy looking blue lights from a wallpaper shop in the central station area, we are disappointed to see that a tiny shop with an old-school concrete sign is closed. Having spent many years in Kaunas, did I ever go there to buy meat pastries (čeburekai)? Definitely not. But on a tour with a connoisseur guide and a group consisting of friends and people I’ve just met, I am ready to uncover working-class and simply under-appreciated small shops and bars in my native city.
I am a member of LUNI, the Free University network in Lithuania, which consists of several groups of people who exchange knowledge without any fees or personal benefit. The network has nothing to do with the Western European tradition of free universities, and it is not a university. It is an initiative to exchange knowledge in non-systemic settings after education became more expensive in Lithuania. This month the Kaunas branch of LUNI organized a very special event – a bar food and beer tour with poet and restaurant reviewer Marius Plečkaitis (interview with him in Lithuanian). Food and drink tours are among the recent initiatives in Kaunas, where people explore their city and visit unusual spots that they wouldn’t venture into alone.
I’m enjoying my 33rd country visited – Canada. Vancouver is as they say – very liveable, very comfortable, and a real relief after three days in the unwalkable LA. Strangely enough, entering Canada was more difficult than entering the US. I was asked various questions, including how I know my friend I would be staying with. This was in addition to some stress at LA airport, where a registration desk worker almost didn’t want to let me through because according to the system I needed a visa. Fortunately, there is free wifi at LAX, so I could check the website of our MoFA and remember to mention that my passport is biometric, which makes me eligible to visa exemption. She didn’t notice that the passport was biometric. Anyway, it’s done and I’m in Canada.
My friend Y. discovered a really cool restaurant in Shibuya. It’s called “Sora no niwa” (here’s one review with a map) and is about 10 min walk from Shibuya station. It specialises in tofu, and thus is a paradise for vegetarians and vegans, or those who aren’t yet convinced that the seemingly tasteless Japanese invention can turn into a broad variety of unforgettably delicious miracles, or anyone. Tofu, made from soybeans, is really low in fat, so those with restricted diet would also rejoice at the possibility to fill their stomach without the feeling of guilt. We had some creatively made tofu snacks, tofu soup, tofu which gets cooked right on the table, tofu tempura, tofu with rice, tofu tiramisu and tofu cocktail… Tofu-avocado and tofu-cheese snacks were heavenly! Also, the atmosphere is really pleasant. Good choice in all aspects! Maybe a bit expensive though.